Rye During the American Revolution
On July 4, 2026, the 250th anniversary of the nation’s birth will be celebrated throughout the country. Although that anniversary is more than two years off, plans for many events and celebrations are already underway at the national, state, county, and local levels.
The first major event celebrated the 250th anniversary with a reenactment of Boston Tea Party, held in Boston on December 16, 2023. As noted by historian Peter Feinman, “the citizens of Boston resolved to prevent the unloading, receiving, or vending of the detestable tea sent out by the East India Company. These efforts would ultimately result in the destruction of the tea and propel America down the road to revolution.”
Thanks to Rev. Charles Washington Baird (1828-1887), author of a “Chronicle of a Border Town,” we have a valuable record of the conflicts and hardships that the residents of Rye faced even before the Revolution:
“In 1774, the first recorded action of our inhabitants took place, at a patriotic meeting held on the tenth of August. The occasion of this meeting was the closing of the port of Boston. The British government persisting in the determination to tax the colonies, the people had now combined very generally to resist taxation by pledging themselves not only to refrain from buying or selling the taxed article of tea, but also as far as possible to prevent its importation.”
At that meeting, residents of Rye chose four men as a committee to consult with committees from other towns in Westchester about sending one or more delegates to the Congress that was to be held in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. The Rye committee unanimously approved several resolutions in opposition to the recent proceedings of the British Parliament, most notably:
• “That we conceive it a fundamental Part of the British Constitution, that no Man shall be taxed but by his own Consent, or that of his Representative in Parliament; and as we are by no Means represented, we consider all Acts of Parliament imposing Taxes on the Colonies, an undue exertion of Power, and subversive of one of the most valuable Privileges of the English Constitution.
• “That the most effectual Mode of redressing our Grievances, will be by a General Congress of Delegates from the different Colonies, and that we are willing to abide by such Measures as they in their Wisdom shall think most conducive upon such an important Occasion.”
Most likely, the meeting was held at the tavern run by Dr. Ebenezer Haviland, as he had been elected chairman of the committee. Baird notes that the tavern (long known as the “Square House”) “was the favorite resort of our citizens in those days; the small green in front of which would offer them a convenient place of concourse.” After Dr. Haviland died during the war, it continued to be run by his widow, Tamar.
It is clear that the committee members were all or mostly “patriots,” but as Baird reports, “the action of this meeting made no small stir among the people of Rye. Opinions were divided as to the wisdom of the resolutions passed.” As a result, a rebuttal was published, signed by a large proportion of the inhabitants, whose names appeared, attached to it in “Rivington’s New York Gazetteer” on October 18, 1774. It concluded:
“We also declare our great desire and full resolution to live and die peaceable subjects to our gracious sovereign King George the third, and his laws.”
According to Baird, the counter charges continued in print when “a furious patriot of Rye issued an address, of which we give a part in spite of its coarseness, as a sample of the violence of the times: To the Knaves and Fools in the Town of Rye….” All this poisonous rhetoric from both the patriots and loyalists of Rye sounds familiar to us in the country’s current polarizing political climate.
The Revolutionary Rye 250 steering committee was recently formed by the Rye Historical Society. Its aim is to complement the work of other RW250 organizations by bringing to life the unique stories of Rye’s people, places, and events.